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Red-hot Australia defend 253 to win fourth Under-19 World Cup

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Published in Cricket
Sunday, 11 February 2024 08:26

Australia 253 for 7 (Harjas 55, Weibgen 48, Peake 46*, Limbani 3-68) beat India 174 (Adarsh 47, Abishek 42, Beardman 3-15, MacMillan 3-43) by 79 runs

A fearsome four-pronged pace attack, spearheaded by the thunderous Callum Vidler and Mahli Beardman, who had Anrich Nortje transfixed to the action, led Australia to Under-19 World Cup glory in Benoni.

The pace pack snuffed out seven Indian wickets to bring their unbeaten campaign to a juddering halt after the top order had no answer to Australia's heat and hostility. Beardman inflicted maximum damage, finishing with 3 for 15 off seven overs.

The win was also, in no small part, thanks to a vital contribution from middle-order batter Harjas Singh, who injected momentum into Australia's innings to top score with 55. In doing so, Harjas repaid the faith of the team management after a lean run had him score just 49 runs, including a highest of 17, in six innings prior to the final.

Most admirable was the manner in which he overcame a slow start and made up for it with his superb takedown of India's excellent spinners that powered them to 253 for 7, which was 79 too many for India.

After losing twice previously to India in the finals of the Under-19 World Cup (in 2012 and 2018), Hugh Weibgen's class of 2024 won the title for the first time since Mitchell Marsh's batch won in 2010. Australia have now beaten India in three ICC finals back-to-back.

India's chase hardly got out of second gear. Adarsh Singh, the opener, painstakingly made 47 and hung around till the 31st over in the hope of trying to pull off a late heist after the top order that brushed past attacks in the lead up to the knockouts folded cheaply.

A miscued pull to a sharp Beardman bouncer, just an over after he had hooked a short ball for six, had Adarsh gloving to wicketkeeper Ryan Hicks all but sealed it for Australia as India slumped to 115 for 7.

Murugan Abhishek peppered boundaries in a ninth-wicket stand of 46 with Naman Tiwari to bring India's equation into double figures - they needed 88 off the last 10 overs with two wickets in hand. But there was never really a sense that they were pushing for an unlikely win; they were simply delaying the inevitable.

The final stamp of victory was achieved in the 44rd over when Tom Straker, their semi-final hero over Pakistan, packed off Tiwari to trigger massive celebrations in the Australian camp as they lifted their fourth title overall.

India's downfall began in the third over itself when Vidler had Arshin Kulkarni nicking behind with a perfect outswinger. Musheer Khan, India's highest run-scorer, should've been out for zero in the very next over by Charlie Anderson but was put down at slip by Harry Dixon.

Musheer hung around to duck and weave his way out of trouble, and had just begun to open up having played a rasping on-drive to get going, but played back to a full delivery and was out bowled to Beardman.

Uday Saharan, the captain, came into the game without being dismissed for single figures. His calmness helped India prevail in the semi-final, but he was out gliding one to backward point for 9. When Sachin Dhas, the in-form batter, fell nicking behind to offspinner Raf MacMillan in his very first over, India were truly on the ropes.

With the ball, however, things were slightly different. Raj Limbani got the ball talking with his big inswing and clean bowled Sam Konstas for an eight-ball duck in the third over. Weibgen and Dixon then repaired the innings with a steady 78-run stand for the second wicket.

Dixon took the attack early on to Naman Tiwari, pulling him seriously for a six in his very first over, but then knuckled down as India brought on spin in just the fourth over. Weibgen, who eventually made 48, displayed excellent footwork against spin.

Off the pacers, especially Limbani, he profited from making a quick adjustment by taking a middle-and-off stump guard and getting outside the line of the stumps to eliminate lbw shouts. Australia seemed to be slowly consolidating until Saharan's stroke of genius that brought back Tiwari for only his 2nd over in the 21st over delivered a double-strike.

Tiwari first had Weibgen hit one straight to Musheer at point and then followed that up with Dixon looping one to cover with a spongy bouncer that stopped on him. From 94 for 1, Australia were 99 for 3 and in need of a serious repair job.

Harjas came in to bat under pressure of the scoreboard as well as his own poor form leading into this game. He pottered around to make 5 off 21 before flicking a switch. Harjas broke the shackles in the 28th over when he launched part-timer Priyanshu Moliya down the ground and then quickly enough bludgeoned a slog sweep off Murugan for six to get going.

Ryan Hicks was a little more busy, enterprising and used pace to steer the ball nicely behind square. The two had added 66 when Hicks fell lbw to Limbani. Harjas then raised his half-century but couldn't quite kick on. However, Australia found another gem in Oliver Peake, who played the role of a finisher to perfection.

His 43-ball 46 helped add more fuel to Harjas' surge that eventually helped them post 253, which on this surface with plenty of zip and bounce proved way more than they needed, especially given the fire power Australia had with the ball.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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